EPA proposes voluntary methane reduction program

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is putting together a program to encourage the oil and gas industry to voluntarily reduce methane emissions.

The Methane Challenge Program would ask oil and gas companies to set specific goals for reducing methane emissions at their facilities and then detail annual progress made. 

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“The program can serve as a catalyst for broad industry adoption of best practices to reduce emissions,” the EPA wrote in a fact sheet about the proposal.

According to the EPA, the program builds on the 20-year-old Natural Gas STAR Program, which encourages reductions in methane emissions at oil and gas facilities. The EPA says the program has stopped more than 1 trillion cubic feet of methane emissions since then. 

Methane is the main component of natural gas. It’s a potent greenhouse gas, with an impact on global warming up to 20 times higher than carbon dioxide. 

The EPA’s new program comes before the agency releases a proposed set of regulations to limit methane emissions at newly drilled or modified oil and natural gas wells. Administration officials have said they hope to eventually put in place policies to reduce methane emissions by up to 45 percent by 2025.

The industry has criticized that proposal. Even as the American Petroleum Institute (API) said it would work with the EPA on the program it announced on Thursday, it reiterated its opposition to hard government limits on emissions.

“Voluntary programs are the best way to reduce methane emissions from existing sources,” said Howard Feldman, the API’s senior director of regulatory and scientific affairs. The API said the industry has worked to reduce methane emissions from natural gas operations by 11 percent since 2005.

“Industry is already incentivized to best determine how to cost-effectively reduce emissions and will consider participation in a voluntary program provided it has the necessary flexibility and incentives.”

Green groups were more skeptical about the impact of voluntary emissions reduction efforts. 

“The industry would like us to believe it will reduce this potent climate pollution out of the goodness of their hearts — we don’t buy it,” Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Meleah Geertsma said in a statement. 

“If voluntary measures worked, they'd already be in place. In order to meet the administration’s commendable methane reduction goals, we need legally required nationwide standards. A self-policing approach is no substitute.”